Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

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    Michael is a trainer and consultant specializing in making mobility technology work in people's everyday lives.
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Task Oriented, not Tool Oriented, and the Where, When, and How…

Posted by Michael Brown on August 4, 2006

Today, looking around while waiting for the O-Train, I really see how effective Media, fads, and other factors have become in today’s society. People have to get certain things because “they’re cool”; not necessarily useful, but “cool”. One girl in particular made that point: laptop backpack, Motorola Razr cellphone, and an MP3 player. She was busy looking up something (or SMSing) on the Razr, while also juggling her MP3 player in her other hand. So, there she is standing at the O-Train platform juggling a bunch of gadgets; watching her, you’d figure she needed more hands! She got the Razr presumably because it’s slim and cool looking, and I’m sure she got the model MP3 player she had because it was small and slim too. What I’m sure she didn’t think about when she got them was the “how” and “where” and “when” would she be using them, hence her juggling act at the train platform.

Sitting on the bus or train really shows you how people pass the time. Some read novels or news, others listen to music. Some people try to get work done, either on paperwork or a handheld computer like a Blackberry, Palm or Treo. Many people will also try to make phone calls at transfer points, and I’ve seen kids calling or SMSing while on the bus. All of those tasks require a set of tools that fit the environment, which can be a rapidly changing one. Case in point; a laptop really isn’t usable on a crowded bus or train, although you might be able to use a Tablet PC. So, some real thought has to be given to how and where you’ll be doing what you want to do, so that you’ll actually be able to do it when you have the time.

So, the real trick to being mobile is to look at what you want to be able to DO while you’re on the go, and THEN find the tools to make it happen. Ideally, you want to choose tools that serve multiple tasks, since this will help you reduce the number of gadgets you have to carry and handle, as well as the number of accessories like power adapters you have to cart with you. If you’re a heavy cell phone user and you like listening to music or audio books, why not get a cell phone that does both? The same goes for e-mail and text messaging. What about other things? Here’s where a device like the Treo really outshines a Blackberry or a Razr. Another possibility is a Palm handheld paired with a Bluetooth-enabled phone. So, what else could you be doing?

Here’s what I do on the bus or the O-train. I use my Treo for all of these tasks, using either built-in features, or with 3-rd party add-ons of software and/or hardware.

  • Read, compose and reply to e-mail
  • Work on PowerPoint presentations or Word documents
  • Listen to music, podcasts, and audio books
  • Watch digitally-recorded TV shows
  • Write these blogs or content for my website
  • Write journal entries
  • Review and action voice-recorded notes
  • Look at pictures or video clips of my kids (digital “brag book”)
  • Send SMS messages (usually to my wife), and make phone calls at transfer points (I personally think it’s impolite to be making phone calls on the bus)
  • Do my weekly planning and reviews with the PIM applications

Just one device for all those tasks, and just a few accessories that fit in a folding bag the size of a hardcover book (my mobile office, the subject for a future blog). The real beauty is that I can be doing any of those things, yet put the Treo into my beltcase at a moment’s notice and hop on or off the bus or train. No juggling involved. With the Treo, I can be listening to music while I am writing in another application, so it’s still only one device for multiple tasks. Sure, the Treo isn’t as well advertised as the Razr or the iPod, and it isn’t as “cool looking”, but you sure can DO a lot with it. And that’s really the point; I can stay productive or entertained with a minimum of stuff and hassle. Function can be more important than form, when you know what is most important to you. So, make sure you don’t fall victim to the latest fad; do you homework and make sure you know what you want to accomplish before you buy, rather than try to find uses for something you bought “because it was cool”.

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